LOS ANGELES — That silver Dodge Ram Warlock with the 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine must have looked pretty sweet when gasoline prices hovered around $4 a gallon. Now, with gasoline topping $6 a gallon at some Los Angeles-area stations, a bit of sour’s been added to the mix.
Record-high gasoline and diesel prices are combusting driver budgets across the land, small car or large. But filling up a pickup truck or truck-size SUV burns hottest, given the extra weight and lower gas mileage that come as a trade-off for utility and size.
Like many, George Moreno uses his pickup for work. The downtown Los Angeles resident runs a warehousing and logistics company. Heavy-duty trucks do most of the work, but he often uses his Ford F-150 for smaller runs. Fuel costs “are so important to us, definitely,” Moreno, 52, said outside the Home Depot. It’s hard “to keep our prices at a fair level while watching our costs go up.”
At a time of higher inflation, gasoline prices are the most visible manifestation. With a national average of about $3.40 a gallon, the Biden administration is worried — on Tuesday, the president ordered a partial drawdown of the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve to put more oil in the market with hopes to reverse the rise in motor fuel prices.
Drivers of pickup trucks are feeling the effects more than others, and their disproportionate pain at the pump reflects major shifts in the design of what are now America’s most popular vehicles.
Back in 1960, a standard Chevy pickup weighed 3,535 pounds. Today, the equivalent Chevy Silverado weighs 4,257 pounds, up 20%.
Opt for the Silverado LT Trail Boss, with the crew cab and heavier engine and other options, and the scale rises to 5,155 pounds, up 46% from the 1960 model.
The trucks are a lot taller too. In 1960 the average American male stood at 5 feet, 8 inches. In 2020, 5 feet, 9 inches. The Chevy pickup over those years has grown from 5 feet 9 to nearly 6 feet 6. Hoods are taller too. The hood of the F-250 Super Duty stands at 55 inches, shoulder high to many adults and taller than an average 8-year-old.
Automakers consider those high hoods as substantial selling points. General Motors designer Karan Moorjani put it this way in a 2019 Muscle Car & Trucks article about the GMC Sierra HD pickup: “We spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it’s going to come get you. It’s got that pissed-off feel, but not in a boyish way, still looking mature. It just had to have that imposing look.”
Automakers have made tremendous progress toward improving fuel consumption in these trucks, using lighter materials and more-efficient engines. But the huger dimensions work against the gains in fuel efficiency. As the International Energy Agency notes in a report this month, “size and weight is a key determinant of fuel consumption.”